Motor sport fans across Europe have been enjoying the widest-ever coverage of the Caribbean's biggest annual motor sport event, with more than 10 hours of programming on terrestrial and satellite television channels covering Sol Rally Barbados 2008 . . . and there's more to come later in the year.
The first victory for a European crew since 1996 - Northern Ireland's Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle - has helped drive the increased coverage, while the ever-more competitive nature of the event and the quality of entry it now attracts have made it increasingly newsworthy; those same factors are also encouraging more European competitors and spectators to target Sol Rally Barbados as a 'must-do' event.
The first television coverage was broadcast at the end of June, appropriately in Northern Ireland, a half-hour report produced by Rally Barbados regular Alan 'Plum' Tyndall's company, RPM Productions. The programme was shown twice on Ulster TV, reaching an average audience of 160,000, and on Setanta Sports in the Republic of Ireland, attracting a further 50,000 viewers; in addition, it is being aired five times on Motors TV, which is broadcast in four languages and to 32 nations.
Since his first trip to the island in 1993, when Northern Ireland's Kenny McKinstry claimed the first of his two victories on the Barbados Rally Club's premier event, Tyndall has been a frequent visitor. He says: "Its like a school re-union every year! Sol Rally Barbados is the most fun event that we cover - the atmosphere is electric, the hospitality from the Bajans second to none, and many Irish and European events could learn a lot from the promotion of the event. The talent among the local drivers is outstanding, as the results show over the years."
The event has also been covered annually since 2001 on Sky Sports, included in the popular weekly programme World Motorsports. This year's win by Meeke and Nagle, however, persuaded producer Caroline Samuels of Pit Lane Productions to move the 2008 coverage into the company's sister programme, Rally Fever, which has a significant following in Britain, as it covers every round of that country's Pirelli MSA Gravel Rally Championship.
Samuels said: "The first European win since 1996 made the event much more newsworthy, so Rally Fever seemed the obvious place for our report; it also meant we could schedule our coverage many weeks earlier than in previous years. And there's an ideal link, too, as our regular Rally Fever viewers will see many familiar faces from our National rallying coverage, such as those great rivals Paul Bird and Steve Perez, also Ryan Champion, who has recently started to work with us as a presenter."
The first airing of the Rally Fever coverage was last night (Tuesday, July 22) in an evening prime-time slot, with five repeats scheduled during the week; Sky Sports channels enjoy a viewership of more than four million across Europe.
Later in the year, a 90-minute programme produced by Acceleration TV's David Winstanley will be broadcast on Men & Motors and Motors TV, among other stations in Europe. Winstanley, who last visited Barbados in 2003, found his enthusiasm for island motor sport undiminished: "The thing that makes Sol Rally Barbados special is that it is a great mixture of serious rallying and fun. Many of the drivers are there to do well, but the majority are there to entertain; that is something that's often forgotten in motor sport nowadays . . . that it is a sport, and that sport is meant to be entertainment.
"What we're looking for in our programme is to bring out the entertainment side of Sol Rally Barbados and, to that end, there may well be more shots of Andrew Jones than there are of the winner Kris Meeke! We also have some really nice features away from motor sport, which show the friendliness of the people all round the island."
Barbados Rally Club PRO Neil Barnard noted: "With the introduction of Sol, our title sponsor, we have seen the event take a quantum leap. The rally is no longer simply an important local motor sport event, but is now an event, motor sport or otherwise, of national significance, and recognised by the Government of Barbados as such. We are therefore looking forward to further growing the event both nationally and internationally."
Sol Rally Barbados and Shell V-Power King of the Hill were elements of the eighth Barbados Rally Carnival. The title sponsor was Sol and associate sponsors and marketing partners were McEnearney Quality, Simpson Motors, Automotive Art, Banks Holdings, DaCosta Mannings Auto Centre, Digicel, Preconco, Nassco, Consolidated Finance, Virgin Atlantic Airways, Crane & Equipments, Little Switzerland, Armag, the Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association and the Barbados Tourism Authority.
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